By Roger Bloom | NB Indy
It was a perfect night for the Pacific Symphony’s annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular, with clear skies and moderate temperatures at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.
The full-house crowd was happily anticipating an evening of comfortable classical – the “Swan Lake” Suite – and, having filed past 19 cannons arrayed on the lawn on their way to their seats, the orgiastic bombast of the 1812 Overture.
But Maestro Carl St.Clair and guest pianist Benjamin Pasternak conspired to pull a bait-and-switch. For on this night, the real fireworks were provided by their stunning collaboration on the Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3 in D Minor that made up the bulk of the first half of the concert.
Challenging is hardly the word to describe Rachmaninoff’s epic concerto, which is so fiendishly complicated in some passages that the technical demands on the pianist can overwhelm any thought of interpretation or expression.
But not so with Pasternak. He was not only technically flawless, but he was soaring, intimate, lushly romantic or quietly contemplative in turns – the complete master of the music, bending it to his expressive will. It was a wonderful performance. Even, well, spectacular.
And the Pacific Symphony, perhaps sensing there was something special going on, seemed to rise to the occasion, providing spot-on support with energy and elan, especially among the winds, but extending across the whole ensemble – while St.Clair conducted as if transported.
The explosion of applause and cheering following the final note – coming from both the audience and on stage – was perhaps in its way more powerful than the much louder airbursts that closed the concert an hour or so later.
St.Clair, having served up a gourmet first course, then brought the orchestra back from the intermission to plunge into the meat and potatoes of the evening, delivering the Swan Lake suite with flair and good spirit, highlighted by the work of oboeist Jessica Pearlman and first violin and concertmaster Raymond Kobler.
Finally, then, came the 1812, to which St.Clair and the orchestra gave their all even as they appeared also to be having fun with it. The cannons boomed, the fireworks cascaded, everybody’s blood was up.
But it was a bit of an anti-climax, with the memory of the first half”s Rachmaninoff still in mind.